The making of the Padmavati controversy

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The making of the Padmavati controversy

Frenzy and irrational responses to Bhansali's film Padmavati can be traced to the deep distrust among the Hindu majority about the history of India written by pseudo-secular, Nehruvian and Marxist historians

On the face of it, there can be no logic to the mass hysteria one is witnessing today about Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, Padmavati. By their own admission, not one of the protesters has seen the film, but lakhs of people belonging to the Rajput community in particular and to other Hindu castes in major States in the northern region have come out onto the streets demanding that the film be banned. While some protesters have publicly shared their concerns, most have not. But, the central fear, it appears, is that Bhansali may have shown Padmini alias Padmavati as responding to Allauddin Khilji’s advances resulting in some romantic scenes on screen — something that would be considered abhorrent and blasphemous by the Hindus.    

Some media professionals, who were called to a special screening of Padmavati, have tried to bring tempers down by claiming that these rumours are baseless and that the two characters in the film — Padmavati and Khilji — do not ever come together. Yet, protests are on and some individuals are even attributing the Padmavati controversy to the upcoming elections in the two States.

This seems a bit far-fetched. Instead, the frenzy and the irrational responses of those representing the Rajput community and other Hindu castes can be traced to the deep distrust among the Hindu majority about the “history” of India, specially medieval history, written by pseudo-secular, Nehruvian and Marxist historians. For long years, many of these fabrications, like discovering “secular” credentials in Aurangzeb, a despot who plundered the holiest of Hindu shrines and inflicted untold cruelty on the Hindu population, had gone unchallenged. For decades after independence, there was a kind of lethargic acceptance by the people of this intellectual dishonesty, although through the oral history tradition, they were always aware of the truth.

Since the Nehruvians and Marxists constituted “The Establishment” in New Delhi until circa 2014, their pernicious influence has extended to literature, cinema etc. This emboldened many in the field of art like film-makers and painters (MF Husain) to take their right to freedom of expression to absurd levels of Hindu-bashing.

But a mass awakening is now on, which can be attributed to two reasons. First, the people have started questioning these fallacies because popular forms of art, like cinema have begun to spread them. Second, despite the shenanigans of wily Left-wing conspirators in academia, we have a band of historians who have tried to demolish such fantasies and bring history closer to the truth.

Some of these historians from RC Majumdar to Prof KS Lal, Dr SP Gupta, Prof Makkan Lal and Prof BB Lal have challenged the narrative in regard to both ancient history and medieval history. This course correction is currently on in the current phase of our national life and exaggerated fears about Padmavati, the movie, is part of this process.

Coming back to Alauddin Khilji, it is said that he set out from Delhi for Chittor on January 8, 1303. One theory, and the more dominant one at that, is that he wanted to conquer many kingdoms and become the conqueror of the world. The other theory is that he was besotted by Rani Padmavati and wanted her at any cost — even if it meant a long campaign and a bloody battle that would claim thousands of lives. He laid seize to the Chittorgarh fort later that year.

According to historian Dasharatha Sharma, who has chronicled Rajput history and culture, Khilji set up camp between the Berach and Gambhiri rivers. On August 26, the Raja Ratna Singh decided to throw in the towel, but his people decided to fight on for some more time “with the result that when the fort passed into the hands of Khalji emperor, 30,000 Hindus were put to the sword in one day” and the beautiful Padmini alias Padmavati and her companions “threw themselves into the fires of Jauhar” (and immolated themselves). 

Sharma quotes Malik Muhammad Jayasi, who wrote his allegorical poem Padmavat in the year 1540, as saying that “eventually all that Alauddin secured of the lady he had desired to possess was barely two handfuls of ashes”.

Many historians base their judgement on Jayasi’s poem. Sharma says perhaps no heroine of Rajasthan has attracted greater attention of poets and writers than Padmini. He sums up the folklore about Rani Padmini when he says it has assumed various forms but the central figure of all these accounts has always been the same — “the brave, beautiful and indomitable Padmini, who could befool a lustful tyrant and also fearlessly — almost joyfully one might say — consign her body to the fires of a Jauhar when honour so demanded”.

For centuries, this story of Padmavati has been told and retold to generations of Indians and has been part of school curriculum and story-telling in educational institutions across the land. The Rajputs and other Hindu castes regard Padmavati’s decision to commit Jauhar rather than fall into Khilji’s hands as an act of supreme valour which upholds the honour and dignity of all Indian women. As a result, Padmavati enjoys the status of a “Devi” in the minds of the people.

Exaggerated anxieties of the Rajputs can be traced to their fear that Bollywood is out to distort the bold and the beautiful image of Rani Padmini. Also, the large mass of people believe Padmavati existed and she upheld the values that are dearest to a Bharatiya Nari. Yet, in the midst of this raging controversy we have some eminent Left-wing “rationalists” not only questioning these beliefs but even mocking at the Hindus for their reverence for what they claim is a fictional character.

Bollywood must guard against such foolhardy intellectual trouble-makers who frequently challenge Hindu beliefs and opinions. Once the source of the problem is identified, it should be easy for team Bhansali to douse the fires.

But, why did Sanjay Leela Bhansali make no effort to nip this controversy in the bud if the feared “distortions” are not there in his film? Bollywood will be able to avoid such confrontations with sections of the people when it identifies the source of the mischief — the spurious history written by Nehruvian and Leftist historians — and stays miles away from their deliberate distortions.

Meanwhile, despite all this controversy, it is the duty of the Indian state to ensure that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s fundamental right to freedom of expression is protected and those holding out murderous threats to the film’s director and the actors are dealt with firmly under the law.

(The writer is former Chairman, Prasar Bharati)

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